Mythmaking American Style
November 8, 2012
Here we go again. Apparently, according to Joel Achenbach, the election results demonstrate that not only is our nation deeply divided politically, but that it is becoming even more deeply divided than before. And no doubt this analysis will be followed by a rehashing of the idea of “the culture wars” that are allegedly afflicting the nation. We have, we will be told, a “red” nation and a “blue” nation and, allegedly, never the twain shall meet.
Now, while this makes for drama, it is hardly the only conclusion that one could draw from the 2012 presidential election. In fact, it makes more sense to draw a conclusion that is quite the reverse of this one: Our nation is not deeply divided at all, although there are divisions and for some these divisions are taken to be quite significant. Consider, for example, the state I live in now, North Carolina. It as a state voted for Romney by a little over or a little under 100,000 votes, out of millions cast. Of course, on a red state/blue state map, North Carolina appears as a red state, fortifying the idea that the nation is deeply divided. But how could this be when a shift of a relatively small number of votes would transform North Carolina, hocus pocus, into a blue state? And, of course, the same phenomenon is visible in Florida, which as of today’s NY Times can not be labeled either red or blue. Change a relatively few votes and Florida can be labeled either red or blue, as you choose.
Let me suggest the following: Our nation is not deeply divided, but it is deeply disturbed. That is, people are disturbed that our politicians seem unable to govern successfully by which I mean in large part “representifully,” to coin a new word. We the people are quite fed up with our politicians’ apparent incompetence and their even more apparent desire to help those who need the least help. We the people are also fed up with spending millions, no, billions of dollars to fight wars that make little sense and bear little fruit. In other words, we the people are disturbed by the kind of politics, a militaristic, oligarchic politics, being practiced in Washington.
But, of course, if we focus on the alleged “deep divisions” in the nation, we can, for all practical purposes, ignore popular dissatisfaction with the kind of politics our politicians are practicing. And, by this illusion, we as a nation don’t need a new kind of politics and probably a new political class; rather, we need the current politicians to come together for the sake of “moderation” or “civil peace.” According to this logic, we don’t need change; we just need more of the same done peacefully. And this is a message the current political class loves to hear and one which follows hard on the alleged fact of a “deeply divided nation.”
But glimmers of the people’s desire for a new kind of politics are visible, e.g., in Colorado and Washington, where the people voted to end the war on drugs by legalizing the use of marijuana, and in Maryland and Maine, where the people voted to legalize gay and lesbian marriage. Both votes, besides the immediate outcomes, indicate that the people don’t think that these issues – and certainly others as well – are best handled by the politicians in Washington, D.C. And I dare say that if any candidate who opposes our militarization had been allowed to be heard, that candidate would have garnered a whole lot of votes.
The people, the voters, know the difference between “divided” and “disturbed” and they also know that what they want is a new kind of politics. And it is this fact that scares the crap out of our reigning political class and its trumpeters, like Joel Auchenbach. And so, when presented with an election that promised no chance for real change, voters chose to keep things as they are. So much for a “deeply divided nation.”